SAN FRANCISCO – Minority owned small businesses and civil rights advocates have
filed a Title VI civil rights administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation
(USDOT), charging the California High-Speed Rail Authority with unfair contracting practices
that violate federal civil rights laws.
“We are frankly appalled at the fact that the high speed rail is totally excluding minority
businesses,” said Diana LaCome, president of the Associated Professionals and Contractors
(APAC) and National Concilio of California. “The Latino Hispanic community is completely left
out, yet we happen to be the largest minority group in California.”
The complaint filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of
the San Francisco Bay Area on behalf of APAC, asserts that minority owned small businesses
are being largely excluded from contracting opportunities available through the California High
Speed Rail, one of the country’s largest public infrastructure projects. The complaint asks the
USDOT to open a formal investigation into the California High Speed Rail Authority’s
contracting practices under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and withhold federal
funding until the investigation has been completed.
In making the announcement, the Lawyers’ Committee was joined by Frederick Jordan,
President of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce; Ms. LaCome,
president of the Associated Professionals and Contractors and National Concilio of America;
Chris Chavez, vice president of the California Hispanic Contractors Association; and William J.
Yang, past president of the American Architects and Engineers Association.
“The California High Speed Rail Project is one of the most exciting projects of our time,
promising to usher our State into the 21st Century of transportation access,” said Mr. Jordan,
President of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce. “However, this $43
billion undertaking appears to not be for all the citizens of California, but for the middle class
and a small group of large established companies. Minority owned business and small business
have been almost totally left out of the planning and engineering of this project.” When and if completed,
the controversial California High Speed Rail will travel through 14
regions throughout the State of and cover over 800 miles from Sacramento to San Diego. Nearly
half of the estimated $43 billion cost for the project is expected to come from federal funding,
with more than $3 billion already awarded.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our state’s economy, and all small businesses deserve a
fair shot at competing for contracting opportunities, particularly on an enormous publicly funded
project such as this one,” said Oren Sellstrom, attorney and associate director of policy and
programs with the Lawyers’ Committee. “We are asking the federal government for help in
breaking down the barriers that are standing in the way of fair and open competition.”
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations prohibit federal
funding recipients from engaging in unjustified practices that exclude minorities. Yet, available
data indicates that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is funneling nearly all contracting
dollars to large, majority owned firms. Although CHSRA is mandated to take necessary steps to
ensure that contracting practices are implemented in order to meet or exceed a state-wide small
business goal of 25 percent, over the past five fiscal years, only less than four percent of
contracting dollars have gone to small or micro-businesses. In addition, an analysis of the ten
largest contracts already awarded indicates that of the 134 prime and subcontractors
participating, only approximately 12 are certified as minority owned by the federal government.
This includes those with exceedingly small subconsulting contracts in comparison with overall
contracting dollars, such as a minority owned business with a $100,000 subconsulting contract
on a $75 million prime contract.
“The Asian community has many qualified design firms, yet Asian firms are being left out,” said
Mr. Yang, past president of the American Architects and Engineers Association. “This is clearly
violative of Title VI, and we are asking the federal government to intervene.”
CHRSA makes no information available on how many of these small business contracting
opportunities are extended to minority owned businesses, stating only that it lacks a system to
track this information. APAC members have repeatedly raised concerns with CHSRA about the
lack of minority business participation on the high-speed rail project.
In 2010, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division urged more aggressive enforcement
of regulations that forbid recipients of taxpayer money from policies that have a disparate impact
Under federal law, USDOT is required to undertake a prompt investigation of any complaint
indicating a failure to comply with Title VI. Upon finding a violation, USDOT may suspend or
terminate federal funding.
Associated Professionals and Contractors:
APAC is a non-profit organization founded to encourage, develop, and support Disadvantaged
Business Enterprises (DBEs) and other businesses traditionally excluded from equal opportunity.
APAC is based in Oakland, but draws its membership from throughout the State.
Members include trade associations, businesses, and individuals.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
The Lawyers’ Committee is a 42-year-old civil rights organization working to advance, protect
and promote the legal rights of communities of color, immigrants and refugees -- with a specific
focus on low-income communities and a long-standing commitment to African Americans.
Lawyers' Committee staff, along with hundreds of pro bono attorneys, provides free legal
assistance and representation to individuals on civil legal matters through direct services, impact
litigation and policy advocacy.